Shooting Stars ($2.99) is the kind of game that hits very high heights: it has an enjoyable premise, lots of bullet-dodging shoot ’em up action, roguelike elements, plenty of flashiness, and laser cats. It should be amazing. But as you play, those elements show themselves to have flaws: a game with very shallow humor, a flawed daily run mode, and imbalanced weapons. Shooting Stars is fun, but it’s remarkably flawed, too.
This is a roguelike shoot ’em up, albeit a light one: you start off each run with just your basic laser shooter, and can pick up new special weapons, as well as fruit items that enhance your character, shots, and abilities in various ways. You can get the occasional armor boost and health pickup, too. This is all in service of trying to make it through six different bosses, all to save humanity, our precious celebrities, and to deal decaffeinated coffee its untimely demise. Seriously, what is the point of decaffeinated coffee? Why not just drink less coffee, or some other caffeinated beverage? Coffee is a means to an end, and if you’re significantly weakening those means, I don’t understand it. I’m glad that Shooting Stars takes a bold stance against the scourge of decaffeinated coffee.
I’m not kidding, either, that’s mentioned in the game.
So, it’s got the very basic frameworks of a roguelike, but you don’t have to worry about it. You just have to worry about shooting lots of enemy formations that come in, and then fighting off the bosses. Beat the game, and you can do another run immediately, trying to get more points. It’s a challenging game, and in the Card Hunt mode, the primary mode, you don’t know what to expect, as each run is different. Daily Run gives you the same run to go through every single time.
This is a game that’s very big, bold, and colorful. It’s not a game with the greatest production values ever, with lots of pixel arts and simple backgrounds, but said backgrounds are detailed. And all the bullet and weapon effects are colorful, with the game really having a sleek look to it. It’s not ugly. And the game handles a lot of chaos going on at once very well, too. It’s a game that if you kind of accept it for what it is, you’ll have fun with it. But the problem is that what it is is very flawed.
Shooting Stars is ridiculously unbalanced. You’ll quickly learn that some of the special weapons are infinitely more useful than others. The Dark Side of the Moon inspired rainbow lasers that fill up two-thirds of the screen for a few seconds, dealing massive damage? Yeah, those things are top-tier. Pretty much any ability that allows you to attack bosses without having to be facing them is going to be great, because if you can stay out of the way of their shots, well, you’re in great shape. And if you can deal obscene amounts of damage in the process? Even better! The fruits which provide various buffs are a bit more balanced, but the one that gives you triple shots? That thing is absurd. And the special cooldown is killer, too.
One thing that annoys me is that if you pick up another special, you are stuck with it. Considering that not all specials are built evenly, you need to be very careful if you have a great one and don’t want to lose it. If perhaps picking up another special allowed you to swap out to another one, or if it dropped the one you had before so you could pick it back up, that would be fine. Otherwise, it’s kind of a rough situation if you are just a bit careless while flying about the screen and lose your powerful weapon.
Try to play this on as big a device as possible. I found that the game was most fun on a full-size iPad, as you have the most room to maneuver all over the screen with minimal blockage. iPad mini is fine, and I found the iPhone 6 Plus frustrating to play this game with. You’re dodging bullets all over the place, and you need to be obscuring as little of the screen as possible in order to do well. Thankfully, the game does offer both relative and one-to-one offset controls, so the latter lets you place your finger out of the way of your character and of the action.
The Daily Run mode is something that I encourage all developers of games with random and/or procedural generation to do, because I think it entices people to come back to a game and play regularly, plus it’s kind of fun to have some set challenge in a game full of the unexpected to do. Shooting Stars lacks the hook that many other daily challenge modes have, though: you can play it an unlimited number of times. The problem here is that it loses a lot of that unexpected factor to the game, and that riskiness that comes from knowing you get one shot at one high score. When you can just play again and again to get high scores, that gets kind of boring after a while. Games with set levels that you play repeatedly at least have a fixed design to them; this is just the same powerups, the same bosses, all in the same order. Part of the fun of roguelikes is the randomness, the unexpected elements of these games. Having an infinitely-replayable daily run mode defeats the purpose.
I wish that the card system had some sort of noticeable effect on the game; I’m not sure what they do, nor what the purpose is, beyond just being a surprise thing to get. Maybe I’m just missing the point, and I’ve been playing this game across many versions and different platforms, but I’m still just kind of wondering why.
The humor in Shooting Stars is kind of odd, in that it’s meant to be very referential, and just askew. The celebrities and memes’ humor appears to be more based off of “recognize this thinly-veiled celebrity reference" than making any sort of mocking joke toward them. Memes are there just to be there. Otherwise, the game is just kind of generally goofy, but rarely ever truly hilarious.
I do feel like Shooting Stars hits a lot of good high points: there’s fun in shooting loads of enemies, dodging bullets, and deploying powerful weapons against “Edmund McMillion." I had a ton of fun playing it on our Mobcrush stream. And it’s a game that has great production values for what it is, as a 2D top-down shoot ’em up. It’s just that the game has a lot of issues that keep it from being a solid recommendation.